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Thursday, February 14, 2013
New reliever Fujikawa impresses early

By Bruce Levine

MESA, Ariz. -- The addition of 32-year-old Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa drew rave reviews on Thursday, as the Chicago Cubs' entire front office and coaching staff watched the RHP throw a 30-pitch bullpen session. Although Fujikawa is penciled in as the primary setup man for closer Carlos Marmol, the consensus is that Marmol will be traded at some point in 2013 and Fujikawa will take over the closer role.

Fujikawa looked to be way ahead of schedule, while throwing all of his pitches with command and velocity during his session. The veteran pitcher had 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. The affable player has made a positive impression on his new teammates and coaching staff since reporting to spring training a week ago.

"We have Marmol closing and we have [Fujikawa] in the eighth inning," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Then, we have so many different things we can do with the seventh inning and sixth inning. We can mix and match there."

Scouts will soon find out that Fujikawa throws a four-seam fastball to set up his out pitch, a nasty split-finger fastball. He throws his main pitches only for strikes when he is behind in the count. As part of his arsenal of pitches, he can throw the fastball 89-93 mph. Velocity is not the issue for Fujikawa. His game is about deception and guile.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio was elated with his new reliever’s outing Thursday.

"He is a real professional pitcher," Bosio said. "We can see that in just a couple of side sessions. We are going to have to back him off a bit. Like [Jeff] Samardzija, he is already throwing the ball hard and locating his pitches. This young man knows how to locate his fastball and bury the splitter when he wants to."

Although Fujikawa speaks very little English, he has been trying to pick up the language as quickly as he can. He was told before he signed a two year, $9.5-million deal that he would be the team's setup man initially.

"I am a rookie here," the pitcher said through his translator. "My main goal is to help the team win games. They will decide how to use me. My job is to first perform well during the spring training games so they know they can rely on me."

The Cubs manager has already begun to have a relationship with his new bullpen man.

"He has a great personality from what I can understand so far," Sveum said. "He always has a smile on his face, and is always asking questions. He asks about fishing and golfing -- Bass fishing! He was really excited [to hear] about the new bass pond at the new complex next year."